On Pink Floyd and Jenga

Pink Floyd has been my favorite band since I was six  years old. From the first time I heard the haunting beginning notes of “Coming Back To Life” through the crackling, blown out speakers of my stepfather’s ’89 Ford Probe, I was entranced by David Gilmour’s Fender Strat and the emotions that seemed to flow through his fingers, to the strings, and straight into my soul. I don’t want to overstate the significance of this moment in time, but the experience completely diverted my attention from the strawberry Charleston Chew I was devouring prior to the start of the song, and for a six year old, that’s a hell of an accomplishment. It wasn’t quite the burning bush calling to Moses, but it was close.

As I grew older, my appreciation for Pink Floyd grew, too. The complexity of the lyrics became much more relevant. The entire catalog of albums was, and still is, a staple of my life and development. While not my favorite Pink Floyd album (though decidedly a favorite), The Wall is arguably the best album produced by the band. For those of you not familiar, it’s a semi-autobiographical album written almost entirely by Roger Waters (the co-founder, bassist, and primary lyric writer for the band until his departure in 1985). Through two discs and 26 songs, the fictional “Pink” recounts traumas, heartbreaks, betrayals, and addiction and likens each negative life event to individual bricks, slowly but steadily stacking around him until he’s imprisoned in a cell of isolation. He’s terrified of being exposed for the broken man he is, or of even being exposed for having feelings “of an almost human nature.” (from the song “The Trial”.)

This is an apt analogy for reaction to trauma: the need to hide everything about yourself for fear of rejection or judgement or punishment. The image of a protective (though maladaptive) wall is one to which I relate very much.

When I envision the most fitting metaphor for how I’ve lived my life, though, it’s not a wall. It’s a Jenga tower. The kind of Jenga tower that makes you whip out your phone at a party and snapchat it to a friend because you can’t believe it’s still standing. Now, I don’t mean that in the “look at me, I’m a Jenga champ! Nothing can knock me down!” conceited way; I mean that in the “I honestly didn’t realize I couldn’t keep stacking precariously balanced chunks of wood on top of each other if the only thing holding them up was a single block set on a rickety card table” way. But continue stacking I did. My little physics defying tower stood for 28 years. Blocks I added comprised of honor roll status at school, accolades at work, pride taken in my ability to navigate a crisis, a sense of accomplishment each time I supported someone else, protected my brothers, helped my mother, spurts of little sleep and great creativity, 90 hour work weeks (because I’m reliable like that), being a “good mom” (whatever that means), being a wife, bumper sticker philosophy Band-Aids for when I felt down, and a completely unjustified sense of some deep understanding of life and suffering that no one else possessed. All while blocks like self esteem, security, safety, the sense of my inherent validity as a human, and significant relationships and attachments were removed, one by one. In reality, my life was just an unstable base supporting a tenuous tower of blocks and gaps through which you could almost see the terrified child pretending to be an adult. Struggle and pain and fear disguised as a harmless party game.

The table started shaking a few years back, but I ignored it and kept building. The tower started really quivering in November, but I ignored it and kept building. The tower collapsed at the end December, but I stubbornly started rebuilding with that same one block base, on the same crappy card table. Then, finally, the card table gave out in January, and the blocks crashed all around me. Finally, I realized I needed to get myself a new fucking table and start building from a stable foundation if I ever wanted to get my tower tall and sturdy. I voluntarily admitted myself to a psychiatric unit, initially for a three day stay. Even then, I was thinking “I’ll stay for a few days, then go back to work and school next week and everything will be fine.”

Denial is a powerful thing. Three days became five days, five days became seven days with a discharge into a Partial Hospitalization Program for a month, then an Intensive Outpatient Program for two more weeks following that.

It turns out that I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from substantial developmental trauma and Bipolar Affective Disorder. The PTSD was sort of expected, especially once I started having nightmares and flashbacks, but BPAD completely blindsided me. Now, I’m trying to learn how to navigate this “new normal” – medications, schedules, appointments, and likely needing to change my career path as it turns out working in a high-stress group home is not fantastic for someone working to recover from PTSD.

I’ve been keeping a journal since my first day in the hospital, and after some encouragement by friends, I’d like to share my journey with whoever would like to join me. I’m trying to Carrie Fisher the shit out of this situation – own it, be honest, be open, and maybe encourage a few others along the way.

Thanks for reading my little introduction. More to come.